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ERIC Number: EJ1064160
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2015
Pages: 6
Abstractor: ERIC
Reference Count: N/A
ISSN: ISSN-0148-432X
A Window to the Past: What an Essay Contest Reveals about Early American Education
Justice, Benjamin
American Educator, v39 n2 p32-37 Sum 2015
In 1795 America's premier scholarly association, the American Philosophical Society (APS), posed the following question: [Write] an essay on a system of liberal education, and literary instruction, adapted to the genius of the government, and best calculated to promote the general welfare of the United States; comprehending, also, a plan for instituting and conducting public schools in this country on principles of the most extensive utility. In today's English, the question would mean: "Design the best system of education for the United States, appropriate for the wealthy as well as the poor, including secondary and higher education as well as elementary schools, reaching people in remote areas as well as cities, promoting the common good and strengthening our republican form of government." In a list of seven contest questions on various subjects, this education question came first, and had the largest prize, including $100 (in 1795 dollars, which is about $1,400 today) and publication by the APS. The winners were chosen two years later, in 1797. At a June 1797 meeting, society president Thomas Jefferson ordered a special meeting to judge the seven entries for the education prize. The winning essays by Smith and Knox provide us with substantial, well-crafted arguments drawing together the best educational literature of their time. Yet the losing essays, too, give us an indication of the problems and solutions of American education through the eyes of more ordinary men. Whether we view the great contest narrowly or generally, as a source for political theory or historical understanding (or both), the challenge of finding the ideal system of education for the United States remains as relevant and fruitful today as it did when the APS deemed it as being worthy of a contest. The knowledge it produced is still useful.
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Publication Type: Journal Articles; Reports - Descriptive
Education Level: Elementary Secondary Education; Postsecondary Education
Audience: N/A
Language: English
Sponsor: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A